Education Opinion

Great Boards for Great Schools

By Tom Vander Ark — July 23, 2014 3 min read
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By Tom Vander Ark and guest blogger Brian Jones

As the Kids Count data showed, about two-thirds of U.S. 4th
graders are not proficient in reading and two-thirds of 8th graders are not proficient in math--83 percent and 86 percent, respectively, for African
American youth. It’s never been more important for families to have access to quality educational options.

We know good schools change lives--sometimes increasing the potential of finishing a degree by an order of magnitude in underserved communities. Good
schools change communities by lifting expectations, reinforcing positive values, preparing thoughtful citizens, and building property values. That’s why we
feel so strongly about expanding access to quality schools.

We know good schools have strong leaders. We usually think of principals--but with public charter schools, boards hire and evaluate a head of
school. Good boards make sure that schools focus on student achievement. Good boards acknowledge that when a school is not good, it should change
dramatically or close.

As board chairs for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and Charter Board Partners (CBP), we’re pleased to announce a partnership to strengthen the boards of public charter
schools across the country. Through this partnership, charter boards will gain access to information, tools, and resources to support strong charter school
governance and improve charter school quality.

The National Alliance and CBP are two of the leading national organizations focused on improving charter school quality, and this partnership highlights
how important governance is to quality. Quite simply, good boards help create good schools.

Many boards around the country are exercising quality leadership. They hire, evaluate and support great leaders. They conduct succession planning so when
the founder leaves, there is a smooth transition to a new leader who has been cultivated and prepared. They help obtain financing so great schools can
expand to serve more students. They operate in a fiscally sound and transparent manner. They build a strong school community as well as ties to the broader
community. Good boards perpetuate themselves by regularly identifying new board members so as members step off, the board remains strong.

Many boards are not exercising this kind of leadership. They defer to school heads and assume that everything is going well. They don’t get accurate or
complete information about what’s going on in the organization, or they assume that because test scores are rising, all is well. Some accept mediocrity in
academic performance rather than pushing for excellence and improvement. Some allow personal conflict and dynamics to get in the way of what’s best for the

Most boards need help! Most board members are well intentioned but just don’t know how important their role is to the health and sustainability of their
school. They need better information, tools, and supports. Good governance is hard work--that’s true throughout the nonprofit sector, but especially in
public education where charter boards are relatively new.

This partnership will help get CBP’s knowledge, resources, tools, information, and expertise about good governance into the hands of charter school board
members so they get the help they need, when they need it, in a form they can easily access and use. Through the partnership, we will also work together to
influence the national discussion about charter school quality and make sure charter school board members, authorizers, legislators, funders, and others
recognize that strong boards are the foundation for strong schools.

CBP is launching GreatBoards, an online program that will give access to its best practice governance tools and resources to every charter school board in
the country; the National Alliance will help promote and support this program through its work with state charter associations and its communications with
charter school boards nationwide. Our two organizations look forward to working together so that more students and their families have access to quality
educational options.

Brian Jones, Chair,
National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
, Former Chair, DC Public Charter School Board, and SVP and General Counsel, Strayer University

Tom Vander Ark, Chair,
Charter Board Partners
, and CEO Getting Smart

The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.